Lancashire morris dancing group will stop blacking up faces when giving performances

A popular Lancashire morris dancing group says its members will stop blacking up their faces when putting on public performances.

Tuesday, 14th July 2020, 11:42 am
Updated Tuesday, 14th July 2020, 11:44 am
Leyland-based Stone the Crows at the St Annes Victorian Festival

Leyland-based Stone the Crows are a Border Morris group with a tradition of blacking faces for their dances.

They are regularly seen at events in their long, black tattery coats and hats, both locally and nationally.

However, the outcry following the death of George Floyd in the USA, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has made the group reflect on its 'controversial' traditions and make changes.

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A member of Stone the Crows at the Chorley Day of Dance

A statement earlier this month from the Morris Ring Officers regarding the use of full black or skin tone face make up by member groups - or sides, as they are called - said the matter had been under review for years..

And the organisation said new groups using such make up, applying to join it, would not be accepted.

In a statement put out on its Facebook page, Stone the Crows said: "For a generation, Stone the Crows has entertained audiences large and small with Border Morris, a tradition that has its roots in the centuries-old dances and costumes originating from the English counties along the border with Wales.

"Part of our appearance is the disguised face, sometimes in black - traditionally (and practically) using soot to hide your identity.

"This has been a controversial feature of Border Morris, and Stone the Crows have debated the issue many times over the years.

"The team has a number of variations of facial disguise, including simple feather designs on the cheeks, and members can choose which they wish to use.

"We have never shied away from discussing the history and origins of our appearance, and received positive responses from audiences when we engage on the issue.

"We have long been mindful of these issues and though we are non-political, we have supported good causes and campaigns for many years, including anti-racism events.

"However, the harrowing death of George Floyd in the US has shone a light on systemic and systematic racism across the developed world, and gives us a greater insight into the issues and how people are affected by them.

"Protests here highlighted everyday discrimination and inequalities, as well as what it means to live in a society that continues to venerate (with statues, buildings and street names) those who profited and supported the international slave trade and slave labour in Britain and further afield.

"Similarly, we must look at how our traditions affect our communities in the same way.

"Regardless of their origin, it is possible they are of equal consequence through their perpetuation.

"We recognise the continued hurt and upset these symbols cause.

"As a living tradition, and as compassionate and considerate men, women and children, we have decided we will no longer use full black face paint as part of our disguise.

"This decision took effect for all future events and appearances from the 11th June, 2020."

The statement from the Morris Ring Officers, on Friday, July 3, said: "This matter has been under review for some years, with statements and advice to sides being issued by successive squires.

"These have increasingly asked sides to consider their continued use of such face make up, the effect it has on their audience, the safety of their side members, and what alternatives could be used to achieve the same effect.

"Many member sides have heeded this advice and stopped using it.

"The issue has however remained under constant review by the officers because although it has a complex and uncertain history, it is perceived by some as racist.

"During the current lockdown and suspension of morris activity, the Black Lives Matter protests and more significantly counter protests by far right groups have brought a decisive shift in how issues such as this are viewed and debated in public life.

"The use of full black or skin tone face make up has become part of a range of symbols used in political campaigning.

"Most worrying of all to the officers is that justifications for using it based on culture/tradition have been appropriated by the political far right.

"The fact that some feel the practice to be racist should be enough for sides to realise it is no longer acceptable and is wrong when viable alternatives clearly exist.

"Those that wish to continue are now consciously taking morris into a political debate.

"The Morris Ring is an apolitical organisation and such sides who do not change must continue that debate outside of membership of the Morris Ring.

"As an organisation, we are open to clubs to join who agree to uphold the standards and dignity of Morris.

"The officers unanimously agree that the use of such face make up now falls short of this test and is wrong.

"They advise member sides who wish to remain in the Morris Ring to stop this practice.

"This matter has been discussed over time with the Morris Federation and Open Morris as part of the JMO (the Morris Federation, The Morris Ring, and Open Morris).."

It went on to say the following steps will take place with immediate effect:

"No new applications to join the Morris Ring from sides using such face make up will be accepted.

"All current member sides who use this are to be contacted by the officers to discuss supporting them to review alternatives, discuss the issue with sides who have successfully changed to alternatives and agree a timescale with them to do so.

"If your side is affected by this change please contact [email protected](link sends e-mail) for assistance.

"Further steps may be required in time and the officers will update the membership.

"One final point arises with regard to the public liability insurance obtained by the JMO.

"In discussions with the JMO insurance broker on updating terms of Morris Ring membership, the use of such face make up potentially being a problem in maintaining cover is also apparent.

"Further advice is being requested before the renewal of the insurance policy in January 2021.

"However given the volatility of public protests, using such face make up may be viewed as an aggravating factor such as to void any cover.

"Any update will be shared with the membership as a matter of urgency once confirmed.

"Although the issue of insurance has not driven the officers’ decision, it is a further indication of how serious this matter has now become."